Fire Safety in the Home

Every year more than 1500 fires occur in the home causing millions of dollars in damage and on average cost five people their lives. Most deaths occur from smoke and toxic fumes. You can take a number of steps to improve your safety.

Install smoke alarms

Working smoke alarms provide an early warning of a fire in your home saving lives and limiting damage.

New smoke alarm legislation requires homes and rental properties to have mains powered smoke alarms professionally installed before they can be sold or re-tenanted.

A 240 volt mains powered photoelectric smoke alarm is the best with a rechargeable battery backup that does not need to be changed for the life of the smoke alarm.

This type of alarm can detect smoke faster and more types of smoke compared to older models.

This means you will be alerted to a fire earlier giving you more time to escape safely. These must be installed by a licensed electrician. You should choose smoke alarms that carry the Australian Standards mark.

If you have mains powered smoke alarms, read the manufacturer’s instructions to check if the backup battery needs changing. This may need to be done by a licensed electrician.
The best level of protection can be gained by installing smoke alarms in each bedroom, in corridors and hallways that lead to exits and the living area.

Smoke alarms should be interconnected so when one alarm goes off, the other alarms will sound too, providing a warning throughout the home. This means you will be alerted to a fire no matter where it starts and where you are in the home. Security systems should also be connected to smoke alarms.

Maintain smoke alarms

Smoke alarms must be regularly maintained so they are in good working order and you should:

  • test your smoke alarms at least once a month by pressing the test button
  • clean your smoke alarms every six months using a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment
  • change the battery once a year if you have a battery operated smoke alarm. It is best to do this on a significant day (i.e April 1 Change Your Smoke Alarm Battery day)
  • check to see if your smoke alarm has a use-by date
  • use a surface spray around smoke alarms to prevent small insects from making nests inside the alarm
  • replace all smoke alarms every ten years as per the expiry date written on the alarm.

Have a home escape plan

If a fire does start in your home, you need to be able to escape as quickly and as safely as possible.

Spend a few minutes with your family thinking about how you would leave your home if a fire started.

As a family, draw up an escape plan on paper and practice it once a year. Practice the best way to get out. Try crawling with your eyes closed to your nearest exit as this is what it will be like in a fire.

  • Identify more than one way out of every room (including windows), if possible.
  • Decide on a safe place outside the home for everyone to meet such as the letter box.
  • Make sure that all windows, doors and security screens can be easily opened from inside. Keep keys close to locks (but out of sight from being seen through windows).
  • Consider family members with special needs (e.g. very young, elderly).
  • Consider an escape route for your pets.
  • Once outside do not go back in, dial 000 and wait for firefighters to arrive.

Know what to do if a fire starts in your home

If a fire does start in your home:

  • Assist or alert any people in danger, but only if it is safe to do so.
  • If you are unable to easily put out the fire, close the door to contain the fire to one room and slow it from spreading.
  • Keep down low, the cleanest air to breathe is close to the floor as smoke rises. Staying below one metre, crawl to the nearest safe exit.
  • If you need to pass through a closed door, feel it with the back of your hand before opening. If it is hot use another way to get out.
  • Leave your home and call 000. Give the following details:
    1. Property number
    2. Street name
    3. Suburb
    4. Nearest intersection
    5. Any other relevant details
  • Alert your neighbours as necessary.
  • Do not re-enter a burning house under any circumstances. Check that everyone has been able to get out and wait for the firefighters to arrive.

If your clothing catches on fire

Stop, drop, cover and roll if your clothing catches on fire.

  • STOP immediately as running will fan the flames.
  • DROP to the ground.
  • COVER your face with your hands to prevent burns and do not breathe in.
  • ROLL back and forth on the ground to extinguish the fire.

You can help a person with burning clothing by rolling them back and forth on the ground or by smothering the flames with a fire blanket. Do not beat the flames as this will cause the fire to get bigger.

Have fire blankets and extinguishers in your home

Fire blankets and extinguishers can be used to put out small fires in the home, caravan, boat or garage.

A dry powder fire extinguisher is the most common one used in homes, however, using the wrong type of extinguisher can have disastrous consequences. Check what fire extinguisher you should have in your home by visiting

You should also:

  • only purchase equipment that meets Australian Standards
  • install fire blankets in or near your kitchen – but not too close to a stove or cooktop
  • only use fire blankets once, then replace them.

Be careful when cooking in the kitchen

The majority of house fires start in the kitchen, so be careful when cooking.

  • Never leave cooking unattended on a stove.
  • Avoid wearing loose clothing with dangling sleeves as these can easily catch fire.
  • Never hang items such as tea towels near stoves or on cooking appliances.
  • Take care when cooking with fats and oils.
  • Turn off cooking appliances after use.
  • Clean and maintain cooking appliances, exhaust fans and rangehood filters.

If oil or fat catches on fire:

  • Turn off the heat source
  • Do not move flaming oil or fat
  • Cover with a lid, wooden chopping board, fire blanket or an extinguisher, if available
  • Never use water as the burning fat will explode and cause the fire to spread
  • Dial 000 and leave the house.

Be cautious when smoking

Smoking materials cause a large number of house fires.

  • Do not smoke in bed. It is easy to fall asleep and have the cigarette set the bedding or your nightwear on fire.
  • Never leave lit cigarettes unattended.
  • Keep matches and cigarette lighters out of reach of children.
  • Use an ashtray. If placing a cigarette butt directly into a bin or other container, ensure it has been completely extinguished first.
  • Before emptying ashtrays into the bin, ensure all of the ash has been extinguished.
  • Always empty ashtrays into outside bins.

Take care with candles and lighters

  • Never leave children unattended with candles, lighters or matches.
  • Always extinguish candles before going to sleep or leaving the room.
  • Place candles in draft free areas and keep clear of any combustible materials such as paper, curtains, and clothing.
  • Place candles on stable, uncluttered heat-resistant surfaces away from open windows curtains and blinds.
  • Keep lighters and matches out of the reach of children and store them away from heat and direct sunlight.
  • Do not tamper with or remove child resistant mechanisms on lighters.